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JC Penney sponsors robotics program
Manteca JC Penney store manager Steve Hernandez, left, with staff advisor Robert Kissee, right, along with students Caleb Van Rys, Marvin Weld and David Kramer. - photo by GLENN KAHL
RIPON — The Manteca JC Penney store is a $6,500 sponsor for the Ripon Christian High team involved in a robotic design development competition taking place at the University of California at Davis over three days beginning March 17.

Penney’s store manager Steve Hernandez was at the school shortly before noon on Thursday to officially make the presentation that included the purchase of the basic “rookie” robot that will be used by students after they officially unseal the robot at the start of the competition.

Hernandez also presented colorful robotic T-Shirts for the members of the school’s large Robotics Club to demonstrate their affiliation around school and in their classroom setting as well as at the competition.

Students will be given an instruction manual when they arrive at the competition that is designed to guide them in the construction of the robot to play “Logo Motion.”  A smaller robot designed to similar specifications is expected to be included within the larger piece of equipment.

Another corporate entity from the Livermore area called the school immediately after the initial story appeared in the Manteca Bulletin several weeks ago asking to also be a major sponsor. They plan to set up sessions that other area high school students can attend for an orientation into the program.

The robotic competition was first held in 1992 in New Hampshire and has spread worldwide. It is called “FIRST” –  “For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology.  Ripon Christian’s team of some 22 students has been labeled First Team #3669.

Inventor Dean Kamen and MIT professor Dr. Woddie Flowers launched the program in 1989 with the goal of fostering an interest among high school students in the engineering and technology fields.

Robotic advisor Robert Kissee teaches physics, metals, auto CAD and engineering at Ripon Christian High School.

Professional level volunteers from inside and outside the high school family have lined up to serve as mentors to the students in every aspect of the robot design and presentation that is divided into two sections: business and engineering.

Students have been elected into the positions of directors for each branch of the robotic team.  Directors are assigned to communicate with all the committees within their branch and with the parent/mentor board to keep everyone current with the status of the team’s development.

Committees at the school that make up the organization include leadership, finance, public relations, mechanical, electrical, prototype, 3D modeling and programming.

Ripon Christian High School’s administration was clear in its expectations of volunteers that would ensure the program’s overall success.  They had searched out professionals with an expertise in engineering, pneumatics, electrical wiring, welding, programming, microcontrollers, finance, business practices, marketing, computer aided design and fund raising.

While the Ripon Christian program is involved in it for high school students of all ages, other projects relate to those all the way down to the fourth grade.

This competition marks the 20th anniversary of the FIRST Robotics Competition with the kickoff of a new robotics game called “Logo Motion.”  The initial event was held Jan. 8 in Manchester New Hampshire – hometown and headquarters of FIRST.

It took place before a crowd of some 600 people at the Southern New Hampshire University with another 50,000 around the world joining in through a live NASA-TV broadcast and website.

Founder Dean Kamen remarked, “It’s not just about robots.  It’s about building self-confidence, respect and important relationships with people who invent new technologies to make a better future.”

In the FRC “Logo Motion” robotics game, two alliances of three teams will compete on a 27 X 54 football field with poles, attempting to earn points by hanging as many triangles, circle and square logo pieces as possible.  Bonus points will be earned for each robot that can hand and assemble logo pieces to form the FIRST logo.

Robin Saitz, senior vice president, Solutions Marketing and FIRST Executive Sponsor, said, “We know the program works.  The partnership between you and your sponsors and mentors is the key reason.  Your mentors are an invaluable resource.  Many of them come from our customers like NASA, JC Penney, BAE Systems and John Deere, just to name a few.  They invest in you with their time.  Learn from them and don’t forget to thank them over and over again,” he said in a message to the student competitors.

Robots can also deploy Mini-Bots to climb vertical poles for a chance to earn additional points.